Javion Hamlet stepped up when it mattered. Of his 15 game points, 12 came in the second half including 8 in the final 3:23. McCasland in the post game interview with Stadium gushed about how much Hamlet wanted to compete in this one. “I asked him about a break and he said ‘I want to play coach'”.
We tweeted that the ingredients for an NT victory against a surging ODU squad were these:
- Hamlet goes off
- Thomas Bell shoots with confidence from three
- Zach Simmons is efficient, decisive, and keeps the ball (no turnovers)
- No (or few) lapses on defense.
Well, Hamlet went off in the clutch. Bell, Reese, and Mardrez McBride killed it. NT shot 9 of 20 from distance, outscoring ODU by 21 from the three point line. Bell was 2 of 2, but the real spotlight was on McBride and his 4 of 6 shooting. Zach Simmons was good in spots (steal, outlet, sprint the floor for a put back) but had too many turnovers. The defense had lapses against an attacking Curry but locked it down late in the game when it truly mattered.
It was the game that NT should have played against UAB last weekend. Those losses may have mentally prepared this squad for the necessary attitude for winning tournament games. There can be no hesitation when a good defense is pressuring you. That decent look you are passing up may be the only decent one that the team has on the possession.
NT did suffer from some characteristic lapses. Once in the first half, Bell passed up a good look, threw the ball into the post to Zach Simmons, who made a move too slow, got caught up and turned the ball over trying a tough pass. For every one or two of those there were great examples of NT catching and firing.
Hamlet was his POY self when NT was getting stuck. There were about three or four situations where NT had nothing going with the set, passed it to Ham and he made something out of nothing.
North Texas started slow in this one as ODU came out in attack mode. The Mean Green closed the gap before the Monarchs went on a mini-run before half time to make it a five point lead. The game was a slog, and five points felt like 15, but NT came out hot to start the second and scored four straight. They pushed the lead out to as many as six (thanks to that great three point shooting) while locking it up defensively.
There were some lapses, like when Reese flew at AJ Oliver and gifted three free throws (he made them all). NT’s lead went from 4 to 1 there, before Hamlet got his clutch buckets. James Reese was a rebounding machine, and guys were flying around defensively. The defense did not let Malik Curry score like he did early and as he was the entire ODU offense that shorted the rest of their offense. It came down to free throws and NT is good at that.
Next Up: Tech in the Semi Final
North Texas did not get the points from the bench (just the four in this one) and that is unlikely to change in the next one vs Tech. The legs for everyone will be gone and NT will have to grit out points and defensive possessions. While losing to UAB might have given NT the materials to grind out this win, it cost them the 2nd seed. Now NT has two games on their legs and Tech has just the one.
Louisiana Tech will not be without their issues, however, as they are down Cobe Williams, who has a broken finger and will miss the tournament. Tournaments are about the stars but also the other players coming up big. Tech’s freshman Kenneth Lofton fouled out and (not quite a role player) Isaiah Crawford scored 9 of 11 for his squad.
Hamlet may have the will tomorrow, but he may not have the legs. Tonight we saw Rice have UAB on the ropes before visibly tiring and falling apart late.
Tech has athletes in Crawford, Archibald, Lofton, et al. If the starters for NT are still going to be relied upon for big minutes the bench mob needs to bring plus minutes. Abou Ousmane was important in this one, getting some important points and battling, and he will be necessary against Kenneth Lofton like he was in the regular season.